Rep. Koch Boosts Problem-Solving Courts
Legislation Highlighted by Chief Justice Shepard
STATEHOUSE-Use of problem-solving courts in Indiana could expand under legislation introduced by State Representative Eric Koch (R-Bedford). House Bill 1271 is a comprehensive measure designed to promote the certification and operation of problem solving courts in Indiana by not only streamlining the process but also creating a framework for models of other such courts.
"Judge Barbara Brugnaux, who has worked in Vigo County's Drug Court, has described problem solving courts as 'the marriage of the healing power of treatment and the punitive power of courts to help people change their lives'," said Rep. Koch. "Our experience since drug courts were first certified in 2003 demonstrates that drug court graduates have a significantly lower recidivism rate than non-participants."
In his State of the Judiciary Address to the Indiana General Assembly on Wednesday, Chief Justice Randall Shepard of the Indiana Supreme Court highlighted the bill:
"Among the most effective strategies we have available are drug courts and re-entry courts, and the General Assembly has created statutory frameworks that help Indiana courts make these techniques work," said Justice Shepard. "One of the results of the fact that our nation has experienced eight years of war is that we find people in court with special disabilities and needs that flow from the pressure of their military service. I ask that the legislature give us a framework under which we can establish veterans' courts and other problem-solving court programs as the need arises. The Commission on Courts has endorsed this idea, and it is contained in House Bill 1271, sponsored by Representatives Linda Lawson and Eric Koch."
The term "problem solving" generally refers to an alternative approach to traditional case processing that focuses on six principles: (1) enhanced information to improve decision-making; (2) engaging the community to assist with problem-solving; (3) collaboration with social services providers and other stakeholders; (4) linking participants with community-based services based on individual risk and needs; (5) participant accountability; and, (6) continuously evaluating the effectiveness of problem-solving court operations.
Problem solving courts may involve participants who are pre-conviction (diversion) or post-conviction based on both statutory and court-established eligibility criteria. Problem solving courts involve a prearranged system of graduated sanctions and rewards which focus on addressing specific problems that a participant is facing. Judges monitor the progress of these participants, sometimes meeting with these participants weekly. When a participant does not comply with court orders, the judge may impose a sanction.
This bill creates a framework in statute to permit courts to establish a certification process for additional problem-solving court models without added changes in statute. Those courts interested in certifying a problem solving court may seek certification through the Indiana Judicial Center. Certified problem solving courts may operate as (1) community courts to address specific neighborhood or local criminal problems; (2) domestic violence courts; (3) drug courts; (4) family dependency drug courts; (5) mental health courts, (6) reentry courts and (7) veterans' courts. However, this list of problem-solving court models is not exhaustive, and the bill permits the continued expansion of certified problem solving courts to address the needs of the trial courts.
Under current law, two types of certified courts can be established to address specific problems faced by defendants: drug courts and reentry courts. Drug courts are designed to deal with persons with substance abuse problems, while reentry courts focus on offenders who have been released from the Department of Correction to probation, parole, community correction, or community transition.
There are three financial incentives for these courts to become certified by the Judicial Center under either current law or by the proposed bill. (1) Under current law, only drug courts and reentry courts that are certified can charge user fees. As proposed, only those problem solving courts which obtain written approval by the Indiana Judicial Center would be able to assess and collect user fees. (2) The Supreme Court offers $100,000 in grants each year only to certified drug courts. (3) Certified courts would also comply with national standards and be potentially competitive for federal grants.
In December 2008, there were 29 certified drug courts (25 adult courts and 4 juvenile courts) and 6 certified reentry courts. Other common problem solving court initiatives (adult and juvenile) include OWI courts, CHINS drug courts, community courts, family courts, mental health courts, truancy courts, domestic violence courts, gun courts, gambling courts, prostitution courts, and homeless courts (National Drug Court Institute, 2005). Indiana Judicial Center staff conducted a survey of trial court judges in 2007 and identified 68 courts that had implemented a problem-solving court or had incorporated problem-solving court principles into managing their court dockets. An additional 91 judges indicated that they were interested in learning more about one or more problem-solving court models.
Information concerning problem-solving courts in Indiana can be found at: http://www.in.gov/judiciary/pscourts .
Rep. Koch serves House District 65, which includes parts of Bartholomew, Brown, Jackson, and Lawrence counties, and is Assistant Republican Caucus Chairman. He serves on the House Judiciary Committee and is Ranking Member of the House Courts & Criminal Code Committee.
[For additional background concerning problem-solving courts: Lawrence Superior Court II Judge William Sleva (Lawrence County Drug Court): 812-275-4161; Mary Kay Hudson, Problem Solving Court Administrator for the Indiana Judicial Center: 317-232-1313]